15/01/2009 § Leave a comment
Title: The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon
Label: Loki Foundation
Genre: Ritual Ambient
01 The Lament Begins
02 Must I Die? (Because Of My Holy Songs)
03 Threshold Of Tears
05 The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon
06 White Ashes (Black Smoke)
07 …And Everything Around Him Answered
08 Shaking Ground
I remember being struck by Herbst9’s ability to create ambient music when I first came across them three years ago. It’s rare to find a band with such thorough dedication not only to the music they create but to the themes behind it. Their latest work is yet another impressive addition to their catalogue, expanding on their obsession with Sumerian history: its people, ideas and spirituality. And yes, it’s becoming increasingly common for dark ambient and death metal bands to cite Sumer’s gods and magic as influential to their dour and brooding music, but for Herbst9 such an interest is a genuine fascination. This is not just another ambient record using the masque of Sumer to slap preternatural artwork on an album while the band tweets and drawls on ad nauseam for over an hour – each work of Herbst9’s is an inspired dedication to ancient Mesopotamia, and their latest album hones this ardour to a satisfyingly sharp point.
Whereas the band’s previous albums have focussed heavily on the gods, kings and ethos of Sumer, their latest seems to be dedicated largely to one person. The cryptic song titles and subject matter refer to the goddess Inanna and her worship through the eyes of the priestess Enheduanna, a Sumerian author who spent a large portion of her life writing hymns to her. The album title is a direct quote from one of the period’s many dedications to the goddess though it’s unclear whether the songs here are meant to be a homage to her or a representation of her religious rituals and it’s most likely that they’re a bridge between the two. Inanna is quite a favourite of the band – her name appearing in its Assyrian form Ishtar on the track listing to Buried Under Time and Sand but now, three years on, she has an entire album addressing her. I can’t say I don’t lavish the idea – if you’re going to write an album in the form of an hour-long incantation then who better to make the subject than an age-old goddess of sex and warfare? Anyone else seems like a waste in comparison.
All nine tracks on The Gods are Small Birds don’t feel all that separate from each other. In the band’s previous works there was an obvious break in the theme between each song, though now they’re more strung together as separate movements of the same opus. “The Lament Begins” ushers us in with soft, shamanistic vocals before the deep drones come in to start the conjuration proper, and they hardly leave us for the majority of the album. Herbst9 take a far more vocal tack on this album with many of the songs incorporating chants and distorted vocals along with the wall of sound that we often find ourselves enclosed in. According to the rubric that came with the promo, some of these audio samples are field recordings taken from authentic sacrifices and rituals, and they’re at their strongest in numbers like “Threshold of Tears” and the excellent “Enenuru” which is simultaneously beautiful and chilling. As the songs progress we become used to hearing pained wails drifting over the drones and each number builds to a steady climax before leading us in to the next part of the album. The ambience is thick with spirituality and sorcery, and at no point do we dare question its potential.
It’s not as if there’s no variety in the songs though: the distinction is just not as stark and obvious. The title track is a much more subdued but sinister number to those which have gone before it with soft, slow beats shuffling in the background while wraithlike vocals twist their moans around the samples; whereas other tracks such as “…And Everything Around him Answered” are more direct in their approach, employing gusty, windlike rushes and the tap of slow tribal percussion before building into an ocean of distant screams. Ilimmu is the most melodic, with the drones shifting measure while soft chimes uplift us, bringing an end to what has been a dizzyingly vivid experience. It is a venture which is sometimes elevating and sometimes unsettling, but always intense.
The Gods Are Small Birds is such a rounded piece of work that it’s hard to pick out anything negative to say about it. It’s more of a uniform, linear piece than previous discs, having more in tone with the older albums of Amon and the newer offerings from Finland’s Halo Manash. However, Herbst9 manage to create ritual ambient with even more texture, more flavour and more richness, with each musical layer being a perfect ingredient in their grand musical edifice. Along with other long-established greats such as Raison d’être they can proudly rank themselves at the very pinnacle of their field, and their latest album is perfect justification of such a position.
15/01/2009 § Leave a comment
Title: Sincere Wounds
Label: Cold Graey
Genre: Dark Ambient
01 Consciousness is Torn off, the Mentality was Erased
02 Hopelessly to Escape from Current of Circumstances
03 Consequences of Oppressive Phobias and Dependence
04 Texture of Turns Confusing in Inevitability
05 Unfading Pathology Branches in Depth
06 Predilection to Viscous
Nedicry are something of an enigma. Not only is it next to impossible to find any information on them, but at this point their label’s homepage is also non-existent. All I have to work with is a six-track, clumsily-worded dark ambient disc in a sleeve that could have been cut from the back of a cereal box. It’s all so abstract and minimalistic that it could be intentional – the idea of the reclusive artist has a certain romance to it, after all. Especially an artist with a penchant for breakfast packaging.
While it may not necessarily be Nedicry’s fault that the album’s physical production is lacking, it doesn’t do them any favours. The press release describes the album as “presented as a handmade DVD-size-sleeve” which really means a big picture of some trees, hand-folded into a pouch with a disc stuck somewhere inside. Someone must have had a very dull evening doing all those. As well as this, the song titles are poor attempts at English and though I can see what they were trying to achieve, it’s a shame they didn’t go for simpler titles and get the grammar correct instead of trying to be a little too artistic with their broken English or running the original Russian through Babelfish.
So it’s a shame that the presentation of this album is so shabby because the music’s not that bad at all. On first spin it becomes clear that Nedicry have a good idea of how to do things since each of the six numbers has a respectable degree of insight behind them. Nedicry use soft, sinister foundations to underlie the ambiance of the music and then lay subtle synths over the top. Yes, it’s a formula that’s been used time and time again but it’s certainly one that works. The songs range in tone from harmonic to foreboding with strains of Kammarheit or UK’s Leviathan and each has a clear atmosphere related to its title.
If there’s one place where the band sometimes slip up it’s when songs get a little long, overplaying the same ideas again and again. A lot of the synth melodies which are played recurringly do begin to grate after a while and Nedicry can end up labouring the same point ad nauseam, attempting to force an atmosphere rather than letting the music take its own course. There are piano and string sections too, and these are a nice change from normal hackneyed dark ambient music but they’re quite obviously played on a synth so their potential is let down.
However, there is promise here and quite a lot of it. Nedicry succeed in creating atmospheric dark ambient music without getting boring or naff. The band aren’t trying too hard to be anything in particular and there is a certain honesty to the music in spite of rehashing some sections over and over. Experimenting with some more organic instrumentation and improving the overall development and focus of the songs could create a very good second record, because Sincere Wounds is rather mature for a first release.
01/01/2009 § Leave a comment
Artist: Dieter Müh
Label: Cipher Productions
Genre: Dark Ambient / Drone
01 Galan Taetri
03 Voljan Nal
04 Mundi Salvatorr
05 Kohota Babel
06 Nine Many
07 Marazion Sand
08 The Return Line
Shinya Tsukamoto’s Haze is a fifty-minute psychological horror film set, presumably, somewhere in Tokyo. In it, a man awakens to find himself trapped in an enclosed concrete maze with no knowledge of how he came to be there. Over the course of the film he tries various routes and methods of escape but after each turn and corner, another section opens out which he must complete and break out from. There is little light and he is enveloped by shadows, harangued by physical pain and fear, whilst nursing a creeping dread that something is overseeing his every move. Tsukamoto is an unwilling guinea pig in an exploitative experiment. He is like a caver who finds himself trapped in the narrowest of squeezes, whose hopes are continually dashed when each new passage brings harder challenges rather than offering freedom and salvation.
Atomyriades is a fifty-minute dark ambient journey through similarly suffocating passageways. David Uden from Birmingham’s Dieter Müh uses the time to manipulate sound samples created by Finland’s Mnem and give the impression of a reluctant and unpleasant journey through dark, claustrophobia-inducing corridors. We can sense and hear peculiar things behind us, in front of us and on the other side of walls. Sometimes the spaces we are in are tight, echoing environments, while other times they are wider expanses, with machines humming and operators tuning unsaid mechanisms somewhere in a corner. Each track has an individuality and leads seamlessly on to the next. This isn’t some middle of the road dark ambient effort: a lot of concentration has gone into each minute. And at no moment do we feel that the artist has abandoned us within its confines.
“Galan Taetri” – Immediately we get the impression of being in motion. This is the most active point of the record and there’s a sense of wheels turning, of moving forward on some kind of carriage or belt. The air rushes past us as we’re taken somewhere unknown. The atmosphere is dark, unwelcoming and uncertain. And then, silence. We come to the end of our journey, dropped into a mysterious space. We hear subtle drones in the background, around us, underneath us. There are sounds of metal scraping on metal: something or someone is at work here. It feels as if we’re part of an experiment that only we don’t hold the knowledge of.
“Sadjaw” – Air wafts past us and the drones continue, rising and falling. We soak in the atmosphere and gather ourselves. Somewhere steam escapes from valves; water bubbles and unidentifiable distant sounds confound us. We’re getting acclimatised to the new environment, which is unfriendly and bewildering.
“Voljan Nal” – The Latin ‘volens’ relates to an acceptance or allowance of risk. However, in this case our situation is forced upon us, so most probably the title relates to a refusal or unwillingness to be party to it. We are now totally alone and the atmosphere is denser. Somewhere nearby a machine chatters and manically crunches data, maybe monitoring us. When the sound abruptly stops, there is nothing but the background hum of industry. A few chimes in the distance give hope of something harmonious, of grace in a hostile environment, and as the machine chatters once more we come to a place where cogs turn, pistons pump and chains rattle all around us. We are nearing the heart of the complex.
“Mundi Salvatorr” – We escape to a less active part of our surroundings to gather ourselves. Drones in the distance and clashes of steel against steel wash over us. Occasional klaxons make us unsure of whether our absence has gone unnoticed. Air rushes round rusty vents, and behemoths boom at the end of tunnels. After a while it becomes clear we are indeed isolated, alone, undiscovered.
“Kohota Babel” – The passageways hemming us in narrow still. There is only the sound of thick breathing against metallic plates. Somewhere, rusted wheels turn just on the other side of the metallic partitions as we make our way through. Probes scrape along the outside of the vents and in the distance of our minds, angelic chords give us hope of something uplifting and promising beyond. The breathing stops and things become calmer. For now, anyway.
“Nine Many” – this is one of the most intriguing parts of the album. Now we become aware of a very slow, deep pulse. It could be our own or of something below. Relationships between us and the machines become confused as we connect ourselves with them and misplace our identity. The pulses are very slow, with exactly ten per minute and fifty overall in the track. We become as transfixed by them as the spaces between them, waiting for each pulse but also examining their absence, what they mask. And then, without apparent warning, they cease and we are drenched in the echo of what was beyond them, the receding sound of whirring machinery. We seem to have left the abominations behind us.
“Marazion Sand” – As the title suggests we could be somewhere outside, maybe the open shores of Southern England. We hear the rush of the wind. Bubbling synth melodies charm us and there is an ambient feeling of escape, hope and achievement. This is the least dark and most freeing moment of our experiences so far. Suddenly everything is shattered by the ugly grinding of machinery. There is a feeling of being pulled towards and into something ruthless and destructive. Any solace and relief was a fleeting illusion.
“The Return Line” – The most repetitive section of the album. Our field of listening is filled with the recurring punch and buzz of some unseeable probe whilst computers relentlessly turn over data in the background. The subjection to the experimentation is complete. As the energy fades and we slip into unconsciousness, the sound of oceanic waves washes over us. It’s impossible to tell whether we indeed escaped or if we are now imprisoned forever inside our own subconscious.
It’s so difficult for dark ambient works to hold their own personality but this is exactly what Atomyriades succeeds in. The samples from Mnem and the vision of Dieter Müh combine as perfectly as their ingredients to produce one of the finest dark ambient offerings this year. Atomyriades – the title presumably a nod to the grand repeating patterns of the universe – is an album full of character and depth and it’s clear that a lot of time and work has gone into its creation. With only 500 copies pressed it’s well worth getting hold of, especially if your standards in this area are high.
01/01/2009 § Leave a comment
Artist: Split Album / Collaboration
Title: Locrian / Continent Split
Label: Self Released
Genre: Drone/ Noise/ Death Metal/ Thrash Metal
Locrian – Burying The Carnival
Continent – Widow Insitania; Gulf of Baiae; Bec Amica Rolls; C44-9W
This is a split release between Locrian and Continent
It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to come across a tape release, but in a time when most major computer manufacturers have whipped out their A-drives and even minidisks have been long-consigned to the Betamax hall of shame, there are some bands who look fondly on them with nostalgia. This is all very well but I have to wonder who really has a cassette player that they use regularly. Maybe people who shop at Dunn & Co and look forward to reruns of To The Manor Born, or who wax on about how Phil Collins ruined Genesis. I wouldn’t know.
But there is one thing that I really liked straightaway about this small, oblong package, which was the art. There’s not much you can cram onto a cassette inlay but there’s something eerily bleak about the black and white pictures in this split release, depicting forgotten, run down offices with hanging strip lighting, and car parks contained within ridged concrete slabs while wallflowers struggle to grow between the cracks. Sure, it’s a cliché especially over in the ambient scene but some clichés are still quite pleasing and this one seems to work even better when glimpsed through the clear plastic of this particular format. I can only hope that either band choose to preserve and expand on this theme for future releases.
Locrian take side A with the ear and brain-shredding cacophony that is Burying The Carnival. This harpy’s nightmare, clocking in at just under thirteen minutes, is an industrial wail of an opus. A long, pained guitar and feedback-ridden shriek with all the finesse of a thousand screeching pylons, and just as much power. The playing is divided into a droning, undercurrented bass hum that runs its full length and lays some kind of hellish foundation and a tinny, acute guitar line that skips and runs over it manically, playfully mocking its heaviness.
This is certainly noise with structure, though at first listen it may sound like a botched television transmission from the netherworld. The droning bass moan that underlies the track throughout is the closest I’ve heard an instrument come to sounding like a human scream. It’s the angst of a voice that doesn’t know what to say, the cry of a mind that can’t express itself and soon, like some otherworldly spectre being pulled against its will into a séance, we find ourselves in an almost ritualistic trance under the control of such horrific authority.
The guitar that plays over the top of the drone is a piercing hiss of notes, but which still manages to remain lucid, even tuneful in places. Playing around with basic melodies and structures it hints that there is some method beyond the noise whilst we get lost in the dizzy whirl of the maelstrom. As the drones and lead guitar build and combine, Burying The Carnival thickens into a stupor and we find a certain aesthetic in its ugliness. This isn’t just disorganised, slapdash clamour but a bold, ordered statement about the ambience of intensity and when the lead guitar drops, leaving only the moaning background hum, it feels as if we’ve been released from a grip that we had no control over, such is the compulsive nature of what Locrian manage to create.
The B side is taken by Continent, a death/thrash metalcore band who have an obsession with train wrecks, coincidentally enough. Well, according to the pictures on their MySpace page anyway. Within 16 minutes Continent worm their way through four tracks of pretty standard metal by constructing songs which are mostly based around repetitive melodic death riffs which, though not particularly catchy, still manage to deliver something of a punch. In contrast to side A of the split it’s something far more generic and though I welcomed its all too familiar battery when it started, it didn’t really hold my attention all that long.
However, I’ll forgive these guys somewhat since it’s early days for them. The four tracks may be sloppy in places and the drumming’s a little too ambitious but I get the impression that Continent are in for the long haul. There are some parts which even reminded me of Death in places and there are some nice progressive passages which save it from being a homogenous onslaught. If they just improved on the definition of their songs there might be a chance their next effort could make them stand out and there are moments in Bel Amica Rolls and C44-9W that provide some variety and stop the music being indiscriminate mush, though unfortunately it’s not quite enough to save it from being just another run of the mill demo.
Limited to a hundred copies only, there aren’t many of these cassettes to go round but both bands urge you to contact them directly should you want any of the last remaining copies. Failing that, and if the lure of holding something physical in your hands is way too last century, you’ll find all the tracks are streamed on both band’s MySpace pages. Overall it’s an eye-opening and ear-drum taxing experience. You can interpret that any way you want, and you probably wouldn’t be wrong.
01/01/2009 § Leave a comment
Artist: Compulsive Shopping Disorder
Title: In The Cube
Label: Rage In Eden / War Office Propaganda
Genre: Industrial / Dark Electro
02 In Confidence
05 Attraction of Pain
07 In the Cube
RecentIy I came across a Jim Henson short entitled “The Cube”. This was a 1969 film about a man who finds himself inside a – you guessed it – cube-shaped white room. People from all areas of life walk in and out of the structure though he finds it hard to leave, always missing an opportunity to exit or being duped by one of his interlocutors. The Cube is a visual metaphor for life and its methods of entrapment: how we can believe we are progressing when in fact we are static, with people only ebbing in, out and around our personal space. Likewise, “In The Cube” by Polish industrial band Compulsive Shopping Disorder takes a very similar look at our existence, though through far more pessimistic eyes without any of the humour and lightheartedness of Henson’s film.
In The Cube is therefore quite a thought-provoking and personal piece of work. It doesn’t want to jar your ears with harsh noises or some of the electronic clatter you’d normally encounter in an industrial record, it’s more subtle than that, even going so far as to advise the listener to play it “at minimum volume” in the CD inlay. The rest of the artwork is understated and modest, depicting the empty interiors of dimly lit rooms with a single bright window leading to outside. Presumably CSD feel – or would like to give the impression – that their existences are bleak, claustrophobic ones and that to reach outside of them is nothing more than a futile hope. Lyrics such as “suffering and pleasure/happiness and despair/they all charm in the depressing room of life” and “pain and blindness wait behind the door of comprehension” further enforce the analogy and idea that this room doesn’t want them to escape from it.
Musically In The Cube is beautifully layered with melody, albeit quite dark. Apparently the band didn’t know anything about creating synth music before they got together, so to put forward something as accomplished as this within such a short time frame is an impressive feat. The music comes across as anything but amateurish and if it weren’t for their biography I’d have thought they were old hands in the industrial scene. Each song has its own feel and depth to it, such as Dreams with its flowing, enveloping synths, In Confidence with its accessible EBM-style melodies and subtle piano refrains, and Fall which features further catchy synth riffs and whispered vocals. The rest of the vocals on In The Cube are distorted, whispered or spoken and at no point do they not fit the music or come across as too much of an affront.
The band are clearly great admirers of artists such as Coil and Kirlian Camera, mentioning the latter in the text of the CD booklet, but there is also a heavy vibe of Velvet Acid Christ. For instance, the piano passages are quite reminiscent of mid 90s era VAC and some of them could have come straight from Fun With Drugs. However, sometimes the constant repetition of the same old riffs does get a little wearing, but then this is music made to create an atmosphere, which it does successfully with some parts even veering off into ambient territory. The song that falls most foul of such repetition is Attraction of Pain whose melody is a little too basic and uninspired but this is really the only weak point of the album, which then picks up fantastically for Fall and the title track. It would have also been good if the numbers each climaxed in some way since they do build beautifully and more than once I was expecting some kind of orgasmic crescendo in the closing staves – but CSD don’t want to produce dance-floor fillers, just dark, multi-layered compositions, and those are here in spades.
In The Cube took two years to put together and was given multiple reworkings until the band came up with something that they were happy with. It’s obvious that the album is a labour of love – of the pained variety maybe – and it comes across as a highly professional and cleverly-crafted piece of work. It may not be too original but it doesn’t need to be: it takes influences from many areas of the electro scene and pulls them into one entrancing aural adventure – albeit in an enclosed space. If the band can come up with this kind of quality so early on I’m intrigued to see what they can come up with next, though with such a high-calibre debut it should certainly be worth the wait.